Our teen literature discussion group just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and we met last week to discuss the book and some poetry selections, and to watch the movie version. The teens were totally engrossed in this film and were visibly moved by it.
We discussed the motif of the mockingbird, and the teens wrote their responses to the following quote from the book:
“Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘I’d rather you shoot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
‘Your father’s right,’ she said. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up peoples gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.'”
The teens are interested in the history behind the book, so we discussed some events that might have influenced Harper Lee, as well as the historical context of the book’s setting. This novel is set during the Depression, but it was written in the early 1960s during the time of the Civil Rights Movement. We have discussed both of these time periods in our group with some of our other novels, and we will revisit them and discuss how Mockingbird relates. It is so neat when the teens start making connections with the literature, and now that we’ve been at this for awhile, they have many things to pull from:
- Post WWI/end of the Great Depression
- U. S. South/small town in the 1930s.
- Scottsboro trials 1931
- Brown v. Board of Education 1954
- Rosa Parks 1955
- Autherine Lucy case 1955
- Violent beginnings of the end of segregation
We also discussed the following themes and found examples of these in the book. My book is filled with post-it notes!
- Justice and Judgment/Laws/Jury System
- Morality and Ethics
- Women and Femininity
- Compassion and Forgiveness
We have discussed poetry selections throughout the year, and we have looked at the various elements of poetry. This time, we discussed tone, and how every other element ties together to create tone. I chose poems that I felt fit in with the tone of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I included information about the lives of these poets:
- “The Lesson” and
- “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar
- “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay
- “I, Too” by Langston Hughes
- “Incident” by Countee Cullen
The teens all had a choice of newspaper templates and designed their own “Maycomb Gazette” complete with headlines and stories. I offered a choice of pictures, including Scout in her ham costume, Tom and Atticus at the reading of the verdict, Scout facing the lynch mob, and Atticus shooting the mad dog.
Some of the teens wrote serious copy aligned with the events from the book, and some chose to make a tabloid spoof. I think the mad dog came back as a zombie in one article!